South Dakota could well be on its way to solving some of its workforce shortages thanks to a scholarship program that pairs students with technical institutes and industry leaders.
The Build Dakota Scholarship Fund, which is managed by the South Dakota Community Foundation (SDCF), was started in December 2014 when T. Denny Sanford offered $25 million to start the program.
Governor Dennis Daugaard matched the $25 million from the South Dakota Future Fund and the first cohort of students received scholarships in August 2015. “It was a quick start,” says Deni Amundson, Build Dakota’s manager.
Through the program, students receive a full-ride scholarship to one of the state’s four technical schools. Both in-state students and out-of-state students are eligible for Build Dakota scholarships, which supports tuition, fees, books and other required program expenses. The average Build Dakota scholarship is $20,000.
Recipients of the scholarships commit to living and working in the state, in their field of study, for three years following graduation. In addition, industry leaders have partnered with the program to provide internships, part-time jobs and mentoring while the students are in school, and full-time positions once they have graduated.
The program accomplishes several things, Amundson says, including providing workforce development, drawing attention to the technical institutes, and connecting businesses to students through industry partnerships. “It’s been fun to see the relationships develop through this,” she adds.
Industry leaders like the program because they are finding committed, talented employees, and students like it because they can secure a job right away, and graduate debt free. “That’s why it’s great for young people to stay in South Dakota,” she says. “There are so many opportunities. It’s getting rid of some of those stereotypes of technical institutes. They really are preparing students for the world today.”
Amundson hopes the program will continue long after the original monies have been used. In the first five years, about 300 scholarships will be awarded annually. Beyond the first five years, the endowment will support about 50 full-ride scholarships. “When we started, we knew we wanted to create something that would be sustainable forever,” she says.
Each of the institutes have established their own funds to continue the program, she adds. “Hopefully the relationships with the technical institutes and industry will continue to grow. I think that’s key for this workforce shortage.”
Amundson says the program has been successful because of collaboration.